Involving Grandparents in the College Experience

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Several research studies tell us that college students who have a strong support system at home do better in college.  As college parents, we work hard to provide that support system.  We may even think about how to involve siblings in our college student’s life.  Sometimes, however, we may forget an important source of continued support for our college student – grandparents.  One estimate indicates that more than half of adults over the age of 65 have adult grandchildren over 18.  So many college students have grandparents who may want to be involved in their college experiences.

Not all college students may have grandparents who are able to be involved in their grandchild’s college life, but there are many different ways that grandparents might contribute to the student’s experiences.  One survey of students indicated that relationships with grandparents or significant elders influenced their life choices, values and goals.  These relationships gave students a sense of self, of roots, of tradition.  Another study found that student perceptions of their relationships with grandparents were generally positive.  They felt affection and respect for their grandparents.

So if grandparents want to be involved, and are able to be involved, here are a few suggestions about how they might participate in helping to support their college student.

  • Grandparents may want to visit the college.  They might participate in Family Weekend, or, depending on distance, make a visit to have lunch or dinner with the student.  The student may enjoy showing off his new “home” to his grandparents, and they will be able to better visualize his environment.
  • Grandparents can stay in touch through all of the normal modes of contact – snail mail (student’s love to find something in their mailboxes), care packages, e-mail, and yes, maybe even Facebook!
  • Students and grandparents may have phone conversations.  Grandparents can often offer a different perspective on issues than parents.  Students are sometimes even more comfortable talking about personal concerns with grandparents.  One study found that as many as 62% of college students communicated with a grandparent a few times per month.
  • Many students receive financial support from grandparents.  They also, however, often receive important emotional support as well.  Relationship with grandparents, because it is often more voluntary at this age than relationships with parents, are especially valued.

Students are negotiating new roles for themselves during the college years.  They need to find a new way of relating to parents, to siblings, and to other friends and family members.  The relationship between a college student and a grandparent can be especially important during this time because it may be changing less than some of the other relationships in the student’s life.  As the college parent, you might help both your college student and her grandparents determine how to establish and maintain this important relationship.

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